Royal Mail sell-off: Thatcherism lives on

Before postal workers even have a chance to strike over the plan.


Thatcherism lives on well into the new millennium it seems with the news that the government will rush the sale of Royal Mail before postal workers have a chance to strike over the plan.

Nothing could be more polarising this week following the now seemingly heroic Labour bravely, although perhaps unwisely throwing down the gauntlet to the energy companies while the Con-Dems attempt to royally screw the nation out of its postal service.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is balloting 100,000 of its members on a nationwide strike over the privatisation, as well as on changes to salary and pensions.

Voting in the strike ballot will close on 16 October while Royal Mail should be privatised by 15 October. The earliest a strike could take place is 23 October, making the whole thing seem a little bit pointless.

The depressingly low value of the post office has been placed between £2.6bn and £3.3bn after the government announced it will beginning selling shares between 260p and 330p each.

Bear in mind the businesses profits to the 52 weeks to the end of March jumped to £403m, up from £152m for the previous year on the back of its growing parcel delivery service, while, admittedly, the letter industry dies a long, torturous death trapped under an ever growing pile of junk mail.  

Despite its problems, many may struggle to see the upside of such a sale considering we are now seeing the long term affects of the utilities sell off. So what are the, hypothetical, pros?

Business secretary Vince Cable has said that the Royal Mail needs the capital this IPO will bring in order to modernise. In a kind of confused agreement chief executive at Royal Mail Moya Greene said that the company would "not change" while being better able to compete in a competitive market. That’s a thinker.

Vince and Moya are right in some respects; Royal Mail operates in an increasingly competitive market and, unlike the energy companies and the banks, the services on offer are not seen as one indistinguishable gelatinous blob, all giving the exact same service at the same price but with a different, just as ugly, face.

It’s not just a question of picking a provider and sticking with them until you get so pissed off you switch to a different one where the cycle begins all over again (in a way painfully reminiscent of out system of government). Royal Mail has to compete to be the first choice everyday of private people and businesses when there seems to be more UPS and FedEx trucks on the road than ever.

Perhaps privatisation is the way forward this time. If previous governments hadn’t done such a lamentable job the last few times, allowing big business overseas to take us all to the cleaners, maybe people would be able to see beyond the failures of the past to entertain the idea that this time it might work.

But the fear of stagnation, greedy profiteering, shady board room deals are not going to be far from peoples minds and pulling a fast one on the CWU in the back is unlikely to be seen as a fair but shrewd business tactic.

With the bull rush move of not allowing Royal Mail staff (who will be expected to carry a 10 per cent share of the company in less than a month) to have their say and, if they so choose to, call a strike, it seems the biggest government sell off since the early 90s is off to a bad start.

But hey, something’s got to pay for that sinking ship called HS2, right?

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.

Photo: Getty
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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.